Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes

Effortless Complexity and Boundless Imagination

Decades ago, Melissa Hefferlin told me that growing up, whenever she did something wrong,  her scientist dad would sit her down with paper and pen to make columns of pros, cons, and alternatives to her bad behavior. She dreaded these episodes (apparently they took place fairly often). But they served her artistic mind very well, especially in composition.

Challenge to Picasso and Vermeer

Art is very complex with many elements such as color, light, form, emotion, imagination, subject, etc. But composition is the granddaddy of fine art. Composition in painting and drawing is the arrangement of contours on a flat surface. Two important parts of it are groupings and the balance of the entire work. To try to create something new in composition is a daunting task and throws down a challenge to Vermeer and Picasso. It seems that Melissa is unfazed by the project. 

In full disclosure, I mentored Melissa in the early 1990s, but I can’t claim any credit for her brilliance since then. 

 Groupings

Hefferlin, Journey of a Higher Hare, oil on linen, 36” x 29″

In Higher Hare, my photoshop markups below reveal the play of a triangular pattern in the cloth, table, and part of the wall. When an artist is composing they have some flexibility to accent patterns they see or sense, Melissa takes full advantage of utilizing these angles. Another artist might not see them and paint only what he/she literally sees, but that doesn’t create these almost music-like beats. 

Continue reading “Pushing the Composition Envelope, Melissa Hefferlin Still Lifes”

The Great Fraud, How Postmodernism Abuses Art

Michelangelo, Study of Haman for the Sistine Chapel, 1511, red chalk.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs

Tufts University is running a protest against ICE–in the guise of being art. Everyone involved in this project may be well intentioned, but what does this have to do with art? The message of the protest has nothing to do with art, but as art it’s one I am disgusted by: the anti-conceptual degradation of art.

Art has a very special aura of the sublime, the ultimate, and the universality of a higher nature. The best in art is evolutionary. It elevates our knowledge, expands our emotional capabilities, and enriches our senses. For instance, Monet furthering our knowledge of colors of shadows and natural light. Michelangelo showed us what a fearless stance against huge obstacles looks like (The David), and he did so with his revolutionary means of transcribing touch to sight. And Polyclitus showed us how the science of beauty works through proportions. These artists and many more, both in history and contemporary times, amongst whom I am proud to count myself, contribute towards giving art profound meaning.

The Tufts project by Jenny Polak does two things that are now-classic postmodern sabotage. They use the esteemed status of art, made possible by great artists, to elevate a protest to a grander status. And by dedicating their reputation, resources, and their art department to juvenile protest posters scattered around the campus they suck the life out of aesthetic innovation, advancement, and the soul of art.

Michael Newberry
Idyllwild, July 20, 2019

Below is from the Tufts University website.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs
Weems Atrium / SMFA, Media Wall / Aidekman
Various Locations throughout Medford Campus

JENNY POLAK: ICE Escape Signs is the 2018-2019 Tufts PUBLIC project, a program of yearlong, temporary public art projects designed for spaces outside the Art Galleries and throughout the school’s Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses.

Jenny Polak makes site and community responsive art that reframes immigrant-citizen relations, amplifying demands for social justice. Originally from England, her work draws on her background in architecture and socially engaged projects, as well as her own family history of migration. She focuses on detention centers, racial profiling, and strategies for surviving hostile authorities. As an exhibiting artist in the upcoming exhibition Walls Turned Sides: Artists Confront the Justice System (coming to TUAG Spring 2020), Polak will work with the Tufts community to create a series of site-respondent signs throughout campus beginning in the fall as part of her ongoing series – ICE Escape Signs. A decentered public art project, ICE Escape Signs are designed for specific floorplans and draw attention to the fact that people are living in daily fear of being caught in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Ex-Student Chan Luu’s Recent Painting Floating Flowers

Lovely new painting from one of my ex star students

Chan Luu, Floating Flowers, oil on linen, 2019

Today Chan sent me her newest work finished today. I wrote back to her, “It is has mystery, and it seems the petals form from chaos, beautiful use of the white and darks, and very elegant composition, a masterwork.”

Chan Luu is a fashion designer icon, yet 10 years ago she came to mentor with me and to learn everything she could about painting, drawing, and pastels. About a year ago she stopped studying with me but continued painting on her own, I am so proud of her ability to make such powerful and delicate works. I am always excited when students gain the knowledge to create whatever they want and have acquired the skill set that gives them that freedom. Yay to Chan and all my ex-students who have matured so beautifully as artists.

France! April-May 2019

Beziers Residence of Bonnie and Robin Priest

A Visit with My Friends/Collectors in their Palatial Home

Beziers Residence of Bonnie and Robin Priest
Beziers Residence of Bonnie and Robin. Before my pastel art workshop started with Art Provence Experiences and Workshops, I had a few days to visit my friends Bonnie and Robin in their palatial home.

Visiting Beziers and Making Amends

About 6 years ago I flew in and out of France to give a workshop. When my European/American friend Bonnie found out that I’d been there, she was terribly disappointed that I didn’t visit. This year I gave Bonnie and her husband Robin notice that I had 3 extra days before my art workshop would begin in Provence. To my great delight, both of them managed to come from London (main residence) and Germany (work) so that I could stay with them at their Beziers home!

Artworks Are Like Puppies

My painting curtains in the guest bedroom in Beziers
The guest suite where I stayed had my little acrylic Curtains and the Turkish Windows.

It was an opportunity to catch up with dear friends, to get updates on their adult kids –who I knew before they were born – and revisit some of my works and those of some of my past students. People say paintings are like the artist’s children, but that is hyperbole. Perhaps a better analogy is that an artist is like the head of a dog shelter and the pups are under his care until he finds loving homes for them.

Continue reading “France! April-May 2019”

John’s Sunset by Michael Newberry

Newberry, John's Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19"

My brother committed suicide and this is a memorial drawing.

Newberry, John's Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19"
Newberry, John’s Sunset, Charcoal on Rives BFK, 26×19″ Studio Collection. A few years ago I got the sad news of my brother’s passing. The moment I heard I knew I would be doing a memorial drawing. I was a little scared to do it, I didn’t get along with him, and I thought it would be very painful. The drawing took about 25 hours, from life. We grew up in La Jolla, and atop Mt. Solidad is a large cross made from cement, I guess it is 30 ft, perhaps much smaller when I see it again as an adult. At the top of the glass rim, was a glint of light which I wanted to suggest as a cross. John was discovered floating in the La Jolla Cove. The most surprising thing for me while drawing this, was that my memories were softened by empathy.

A Reddit commentator gave condolences and then wrote “I love the grain of the table magnified by the water in the glass.” That names so well the visual.

The Problem with Glass

Michelangelo paints and draws humans not so much how he sees them but what his hands would feel massaging their bodies. Bone stands out and soft spots become indented. Glass is tricky because we literally see through it but if you draw it that way it doesn’t feel tactically real. See if you can observe that the patterns inside the glass float up to the front side of the glass; as if you could reach out and tap the glass.

Icarus Landing: Incorporating and Transcending Two Major Traditions in Western Civilization

Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55"x36”, studio collection
Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55"x36”, studio collection
Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55″x36”, studio collection.
A tricky aspect to painting big-themed works is that they run the risk of becoming a mental construction. I painted the figure of Icarus alla prima, live from a model, giving the mythical figure a living flesh and blood presence. I particularly like the line of highlights extending from his shoulders to the tips of his fingers. That line gives a sense of kinetic energy and the indescribable feeling of a breeze pushing back gently to slow his descent. Hands and feet are, figuratively speaking, the high notes that make or break a work’s expression. I love the spatial movement from back to front separating his feet, and how his big toe is reaching out preparing for contact with the earth. This is my tribute to Michelangelo’s God reaching out to give the spark of life to Adam. Icarus’ dialog, in contrast, is between himself and Earth, just as my art is between me and the universe.

Freedom and Gravitas

For many people, the sexy, entitled lifestyle of living on the luxurious mile-long stretch of Pacific coastline in La Jolla, California in the 1960s was the height of success. For me as a kid it was exhilarating to build up a salty sunburned sweat, leap into the air, and be able to execute a brutal backhand overhead smash on the tennis court. (Later I ended up playing pro tennis to pay for my art education in Holland). Afterwards, to cool off, I’d ditch my shoes and socks and run a few hundred feet from the tennis court and plunge underneath the perfect wave crests made famous by the Beach Boys, All Over La Jolla … Surfin’ USA! The feeling of freedom was omnipresent; no rules, no school if you didn’t feel like going; no homework; and no curfew. It was as if kids had a built in automatic path, their destiny awaiting them, meanwhile they could do anything. There was also stuff you couldn’t talk about … which was way too complex for a kid to cope with. And later shushed because it involved people still alive. I lived in a world of physical fun with an ominous feeling that not all was well when you scratched the surface.

Continue reading “Icarus Landing: Incorporating and Transcending Two Major Traditions in Western Civilization”

The Problem with Equating Form, Light, and Space with Being Old-Fashioned

A Newberry still life recreating how depth gives a feeling of movement between objects.
Olaku's use of twilight to convey depth, light, shadow, and reflections.
Abiodun Olaku, Conversations, oil on canvas, 2014. An excellent example of a contemporary artist integrating form, light, and depth. And notice the groupings of people, as if the more we look we will be able to hear their conversations. Compare this to famous postmodern artists below with their empty, flat, trash devoid of human empathy or perception.

Mediocre artists, forever disappointed that they don’t match up, have a hard time acknowledging history’s great artists.  Michelangelo, Monet, Vermeer, and Rembrandt are hard mentors. One way second-rate artists work around this is to change the rules of aesthetics. The most extreme case is postmodern aesthetics, which obliterates the importance of mastery of the medium, or using any medium at all, and believes shock concepts are the essence of art requiring no skill.

Continue reading “The Problem with Equating Form, Light, and Space with Being Old-Fashioned”

Damn Complex Chaos to Visual Language

newberry-orb-3-oil-pc

Cutting to the chase a painting that is flat is more like a cereal box than like a Rembrandt. What makes painting interesting is transforming forms, depth, and light from the real world to a canvas. It is a very complex visual language that conceptualizes how we see, and it triggers suspension of disbelief, rewarding us with the perception of movement and light.  A painter cannot just cut and paste reality to the canvas, the transition deals with how we perceive, how light bounces off forms and textures, painting techniques, and oddly, even how well our studios are calibrated for light.

Some years ago I was having trouble painting. I would stand back and see a mistake and try to paint a correction, but when I got up close to the painting I just couldn’t capture the nuance I was hoping for. I was getting near 60 years old and I decided to totally re-educate myself about painting (even though I already had four decades of painting behind me). The project was to paint a  sandstone orb that has personal significance to me. My studio has the greatest daylight from 11 am to noon, and I like to paint into the night, so figuring out the artificial light was essential. I painted each orb under different artificial lighting conditions. I also used every painting technique I knew, from thin liquid applications to scumbling to super thick blobs of paint. This series of nine alla prima paintings, all in private collections, were the result of these explorations.

Rend

Newberry, "Little Light of Mine", charcoal on Rives BFK, 26x19 inches.

 

Newberry,
Newberry, “Not to Be Answered”, charcoal on Rives BFK, 19×13 inches.

Death touched my life when three people near me, in the same year, died.  The horrible result was that I felt nothing.

One of them was a Dutch woman I didn’t know very well, but we were related in a sense.  I knew she had been ill for some time with breast cancer. She had a husband and four children, the oldest being eleven or twelve years old.  I was told that she was ready to die, and I was also told that she would like to meet with me the next day. Continue reading “Rend”

An Aesthete’s Guide to Visiting a Museum in a Nutshell

Rijksmuseum, Erik Smits

Don’t follow a map, don’t read anything, don’t ask, don’t look at other people, don’t try to make it worthwhile, and don’t try to “get it.” Just start walking, glancing as you are moving quickly along. Don’t feel bad if nothing “speaks” to you; just keep moving on. It might be in the 10th room, but there will be some work that will grab your attention. Stop there and just look at it. And look until you feel you are ready to move on. That is it.

You will find that experience lights a spark. In a nutshell, it is a personal experience of art. After that you might be interested to research art, movements, and artists. But none of that replaces the unique spark that speaks to you.